Starting Over

Greetings Beloved Friends!

I hope you had a wonderful summer.  As the new school year begins, I wanted to reach out with an update.  As you may know, I am in the midst of a big life transition (stepping away from the university) and so many people have been asking me what I’m doing next, I thought I would just put it all down so I could share it with the people I care about.  As a transsexual, of course this is not the first time I’ve started over in life lol—I’m kind of an expert at it.  Since it’s something that many people are afraid of (stepping into the unknown), I thought that sharing my journey might be helpful and/or encouraging.

I’d also like to hear about your journey—how you are feeling about the state of the world, what has you excited these days, what’s your #1 goal that you are working on?  Because perhaps there is some overlap and we could help each other.  In stepping away from the academic world, I’m experiencing a type of graduation that I know many of you are facing or have faced so, even if my own style of reinvention isn’t your thing, at the very least I can sympathize.

I’ve been writing about my professional shapeshifting on my blog (https://sambullington.org/sams-reflections/), but I’ve decided to largely switch format to an email newsletter and I’m wondering, first of all, if you’d like to receive my newsletter.  If so, just shoot me your best email address (I’m at Sam.Bullington@colorado.edu) and I’ll add you to my list.  It would entail hearing from me about once a month—and perhaps hearing how I’m remaking my life might inspire you to make yours more in your own image!  Given the challenges that we are facing collectively, there’s never been a better time to bring forth your best into the world and chase your dreams because we might not get another chance.  The world needs your unique gifts!

As a transgender person, I’m not exactly a “one thing” kind of person, so the first thing you should know is that I’m not just replacing college professor with the next thing.  I am cultivating multiple streams of livelihood and I’m not actually stepping away from being a college professor—I’m just taking my teaching beyond the confines of the university.  With the cultural shifts that have come with the election, I feel called to a broader platform—and to seize the opportunities of this historical time of cultural awakening and unrest.

Most similar to what I’ve been doing, I do plan to offer some online courses.  Though you won’t receive CU credit for such courses, they could be a perfect way to stay connected to the ideas and materials you may have been (or wanted to be) exposed to in college—without having to apply to CU (or pay the hefty tuition!).  I will be offering stand-alone single classes on particular themes, like sexuality, as well as more extended semester-long explorations.

As many of you know, since the election, I’ve been doing a lot of traveling, speaking about and leading workshops on unlearning racism, toxic masculinity, and decolonizing teaching in particular.  So, if your conference or event is looking for a keynote speaker, or your organization or workplace is in need of some kind of training around issues involving gender, sexuality, race, class or social justice, I hope that you will think of me.  Those of you who have taken classes with me know that my approach is a non-shaming we’re-all-in-this-together one.

Stepping away from the university has also allowed me time and space to finally make significant headway on my book, Transgender Wisdom: What I’ve Learned about Gender and Life from Living in the Grey Areas.  I plan to be wrapping that up over the next couple months and will let you know where and how it will be available.  In the meantime, here’s a preview: Chapter One:  Introduction—My Phoenix Journey/Living Between Worlds, Chapter Two:  Nobody Wins at the Gender Game, Chapter Three:  Time to Evolve, Chapter Four:  Evolution Means Change, and Chapter Five:  Trans People are Here to be Teachers and Leaders.

While being a college professor has been a source of tremendous joy and satisfaction, and has allowed me to wear many hats under that job description, because it is so absorbing it hasn’t left me the time and space to pursue other passions that I have.  One of the things about living in a society that is dying and breaking apart—which I learned well from my time in South Africa just as the apartheid regime was ending—is that there are a lot of unmet needs.  So I am multiplying my offerings in an attempt to meet some of those needs and I wanted to let you know because maybe you, or someone you know, might be looking for what I have to offer.

You may have heard me in class or elsewhere refer to my shamanic training in Michigan—in indigenous communities, on this continent and elsewhere, people like me have long been healers and counselors, as bridges between the everyday human world and the spiritual world, and as confidants whose breadth of experience (from having lived as multiple genders) can offer uniquely helpful perspectives on common human dilemmas.

My shamanic counseling practice is unlike traditional psychotherapy.  There is no diagnosing or pathologizing or strict protocol in shamanic counseling.  Rather than my being an “expert,” the purpose of sessions is to create a safe container for your own natural wisdom and deepest heart’s desires to come forward, speak, and blossom.  We each have our own natural navigational system, our own inner compass, and I help people learn to be increasingly guided by this inner wisdom.

The main reason why people seek counseling is that our ordinary identity and habitual ways of thinking and perceiving just aren’t working.  An alternate point of view is needed and the tools of shamanic counseling provide access to a new or refreshing point of view.  This change of consciousness—or paradigm shift—is often all that is needed for profound healing.

Shamanic counseling is especially effective in dealing with major life transitions—processes of death and rebirth that we experience when we go through a big change, such as graduation or coming out.  As a trans person myself, my counseling practice is ideal for anyone in the process of questioning or exploring their own gender.  And as a polyamorous person in a successful 11-year polyamorous marriage, I am the ideal person to turn to for anyone grappling with the challenges and joys of polyamory.  I don’t know about you, but I’ve found it very frustrating to be seeing a therapist around relationship issues only to have them tell me the REAL problem is that I just shouldn’t be polyamorous!

I am even an ordained minister (in the metaphysical, not Christian tradition) and have performed marriage rituals, so if you know of someone looking for a wedding officiant for a non-traditional union/ceremony, I might be the one they are looking for!  In fact, my partner just teamed up with Katie Woodzick for A Gender Queer Cabaret at the recent Boulder Fringe Festival and they are talking about booking some wedding gigs together, so where else could you get a whole gender queer wedding package deal!

Another aspect of my shamanic training is that I lead vision quests.  If you, or someone you know, have ever considered doing one—basically spending 2 sacred days out in the wilderness to receive greater clarity about your purpose in life—let’s talk.  It’s a very powerful experience!

My most unusual offering is my most recent: professional cuddling!  Yes, it’s a thing!  Since the election, many folks are feeling freaked out, unsafe, ungrounded—not to mention that our work lives are so consuming it can be hard to find time for a relationship—so increasingly people are looking for experienced cuddlers from whom they can receive healing, non-sexual touch.  Cuddle parties and speed cuddling events have been popping up all over the country and, once it really catches on (right now there are only a handful of other folks offering such services in Denver and Boulder), I plan to offer my own “cuddle curriculum” for folks who are interested in pursuing this innovative new field.

One of the things that most excites me about my various offerings beyond the university is that I’m not planning to compete with a bunch of other folks—I’m simply offering things that, for the most part, are not being offered elsewhere.  Therefore, if you are a healer or therapist yourself, or are close to one, feel free to pass on my information to folks you think might be able to benefit from my specialized services.  While some of my services, such as the professional cuddling, need to happen in person, most of my offerings can be accessed remotely for those not located in Colorado.

All of my offerings are on a sliding scale basis (generally $30-$120), as I want my services to be accessible for everyone, regardless of income level.  If there are financial concerns, let’s talk—I’m sure we can figure out an amount and/or payment plan that would be affordable.  Do you have skills or resources that you’d perhaps like to barter rather than exchanging traditional payment for services?  Let’s talk!  We are moving into a world beyond capitalism—let’s explore it and create new options together.

How I prefer to do payment, for folks who are willing, is for payment to be part of the intuitive work.  I simply lead a guided meditation at the end of sessions or workshops, allowing people’s intuition to choose the amount, which I’ve found always seems to reflect the highest good of everyone involved.  For unusual offerings, like professional cuddling or shamanic counseling, I’m happy to offer introductory sessions for $15 so folks can see whether they like it.  Overall, my services are designed to help people to be more present—and what area of life couldn’t be improved simply by being more present!

Many of you have heard my critiques of higher education—the dehumanizing environment and the ways that standardized teaching and so much pressure to perform have unnecessarily robbed students of the joy and satisfaction of learning (here’s a short piece I wrote for an online journal, for those of you who have never taken a class with me: http://betweencoasts.org/life-standardized/). Therefore, I want you to know that, for a while now, I’ve considered starting my own university. While I won’t be in the place to accept students anytime soon (it’s a big project!), there is a group of us who are passionate about this undertaking and have been meeting to make plans. No grades, no tuition, no gatekeeping, no bullshit—just bringing together those who want to learn and those who want to teach (possibly in a new progressive community gathering place that I’m helping a friend to create). Stay tuned for further details!

Finally, many of you know that a couple years ago I started a trans chorus in Colorado (check out our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/coloradotranschoir/) .  Phoenix meets on Tuesday nights from 7-8:30pm in Broomfield (3078 W 134th Place) and, if you live in the Front Range, we’d love to have you join us!  Before you counter “but I’m not a singer,”—singing is just part of human expression and anyone can do it.  We are a non-audition, low-pressure community chorus that sings largely at community events themed around social justice.  You don’t have to be trans to sing with Phoenix—we welcome partners and parents, friends and allies, folks anywhere along the gender spectrum.  Not exactly a traditional chorus, Phoenix is more of a safe container in which to explore aspects of yourself and a refuge from a lot of the punishing rules and pretending that we are expected to abide by in the outside world.  And though singing is a lot of what we do, it’s not the only thing—we are actually an arts collective and welcome folks who want to share or explore any aspect of creative expression.

And singing is even good for you!  And the planet!  Research has shown that when people sing together, their hearts actually start beating together.  Singing together is an excellent metaphor for our collective liberation—everyone has their own unique contribution, and when we come together and really listen to one another, we can create something really beautiful.

I’ll end by saying don’t ever let anyone tell you that you don’t have the training or talent to make your dreams come true because I founded and lead this chorus without any of the specialized training that other choir directors have (I actually took a conducting class at CU last fall to learn some of those skills!)—and, as a trans person, singing has been one of my thorniest life challenges!  I was empowered to start this chorus in part as a result of singing in a trans chorus in Minneapolis 10 years ago (the second ever trans chorus on the planet, as far as I know!)—but I almost didn’t even join that group because I felt so paralyzed with fear about singing in public.  Although I have been actively working on this fear for a decade, standing up in front of my choir (especially as an introvert) still makes me feel like I’m going to pass out from time to time!  So, if you feel the passion to offer something, don’t tell yourself that you can’t do it.  Anything is possible.

My real impetus for founding Phoenix was because it needed to exist and nobody else was doing it.  In 2012 I attended the huge global LGBT choir festival called GALA that happens every 4 years, and there was zero trans representation!  I was so heartbroken and outraged that I vowed that in 2016 it would not happen again, even if I had to start my own chorus.  I mentioned this to my Intro to LGBT Studies class and one of my students—a professional musician herself—took me seriously and Phoenix was born!

Although I have been scrambling every step of the way to honor my commitment to lead this group (especially trying to fit it in to my already overburdened schedule as a college professor!), it has been a tremendous learning experience and, despite the stress, has become a huge source of joy, pride, community, and empowerment.  So what gaps do you see that need to be filled and what can you offer towards that end?  If you have the gifts and talent to do so, definitely go for it!  But even if you don’t, if you have the willingness to learn as you go along, I’d encourage you to still consider it.

Well, now that you’ve heard what I’m up to, I hope that at least some part of you is feeling inspired to contemplate what is possible for you.  I had my first mid-life crisis when I graduated from college and simply didn’t see my path among the options that were presented to me.  Sometimes our path is not there because we are meant to create it—just as I’ve had to create my own gender, since the limited choices being offered simply didn’t suit me.

If you live in the Front Range, I have an upcoming workshop that might help.  It is themed around the Fall Equinox and here is the description:

Has your world recently turned upside down? Has a steady part of your life that you have counted on recently been destabilized in a dramatic fashion? Are you feeling resistance to taking a next step that’s been calling to you, choosing familiarity over growth? If rapid transformation is occurring in your world due to forces that seem to be beyond your control, come learn how to engage more proactively with change in ways that affirm rather than undermine your trust in the process of life.

The workshop will be on Thurs evening, Sept 21 (the night before the Equinox) from 7-9pm at 3078 W. 134th Place, Broomfield CO 80020 and will be a donation-based offering.

So I’m wondering if you might know anyone who could benefit from any of the services that I’m offering?  The very best way you can support me in this grand reinvention, if you are so inclined, is simply by helping connect me with those who are looking for what I have to share.  You can always direct people to (or find out more about my offerings at) my website: sambullington.org.

And I’d love to support you as well!  Shoot me an email and let me know what you’re up to, what challenges you are facing, and I’ll do my best to connect you to resources that might help.  We’re all in this together!

If you’d like to continue hearing about my journey, don’t forget to send me your best email and permission to add you to my newsletter list.  And if you ever get tired of hearing from me, just let me know that too—I won’t be offended.

Enjoy the turn to fall and I hope to hear from you soon! 😊

Warm regards,

Sam

Oh, one more request: To have a way to make some money as needed as I’m getting up other things, I signed up to be a driver for Lyft—it’s perfect for me as you turn on the app when you want to be available, turn it off when you don’t, and during the one week I tried it more or less “full time,” I made about $1000, which frankly is more than I was making teaching for a lot less hours!  Those of you who are Lyft riders (anywhere in the country), as well as those of you who have considered signing on to be a driver yourself, if you enter my referral code (SAM13929), apparently I get free money for doing nothing (and who couldn’t use more of that!), so thanks for thinking of me!

 

Compost Heap

As a polyamorous transsexual vegan, I’m quite accustomed to stirring peoples’ fears and discomfort, as who I am and how I live my life tends to unintentionally challenge other people’s structures of security and comfort.  So it is not at all surprising that my recent leap from the ivory tower into the great unknown has triggered the loving concern of some of the pragmatists in my life. This is my grateful response.

Thank you so much for your concern and your caring investment in my well-being, but I am really not worried.  Though I think I should probably feel more anxious given the current uncertainty about my livelihood, I feel instead only light and free and joyful that my arms are finally empty so I am ready to receive and available to serve.

It is not the first time I’ve started over in life.  When Angie and I moved to Colorado in 2010, we didn’t know anyone here and neither of us had jobs—we were just following a calling.  And I would not be the person I am today if a former self and life did not completely die.  That’s really the essence of what it means to be a transsexual.  The defining characteristic of the path is not even about gender, it is really about authenticity and transformation and loss, unconditionally letting go of a life that is not your best truest life in the trusting hope that a better life awaits.  Though there have been real losses for sure, it is a path I have never truly regretted.

The shamanic path, which I have been explicitly travelling since 2009, is also the path of death and rebirth, the Phoenix path.  Though it may look daunting from the outside, and can be very intense going through it, you are always reborn as something greater so the rewards are pretty tremendous.  It is a form of alchemy—turning something challenging into gold, learning to heal yourself so that you can heal others.

At this time last year, I was also embarking on a giant risk.  In preparation for our performance at a massive LGBT choir festival, Phoenix members decided that they wanted to be known as the trans chorus that does our own material.  So, with 6 weeks to rehearse, we wrote and fervently practiced 3 totally new songs—a path that was completely ill-advised as a brand new chorus in such a high profile venue.  My touchstone during this time was a postcard I placed in my bathroom: “Sometimes you just have to leap and build your wings on the way down.”  Though it was still unclear right through our final rehearsal whether it would all come together or not, it really could not have gone any better.  By any measure, our performance (at Buell Theater in front of 2500 people!) was a smashing success, a risk I’m very happy that we decided to take.

So here I am again, leaping and building my wings on the way down…

Recently I spent time at a DIY queer anarchist punk music festival in Denver called Compost Heap that one of my former students co-organized, and compost heap is a great metaphor for my life right now.  Things that have passed their time are dying and fermenting and about to become fertilizer for whatever’s next.

Compost heap is a great metaphor for our collective transformation as well, as our societal structures that have outlived their purpose are crumbling to make space for new structures that can better take care of our well-being.  And the gift of a society that is crumbling is that there are lots of cracks and crevices in a structure that is breaking apart—spaces to help facilitate the transformation and also spaces to thrive.  I’ve spent most of my adult life having to try to fit myself into a world that has never suited me, but now that that world is losing hegemony, I don’t have to waste my energy trying to break in on its terms.  Instead I can lead people away from that dangerous crumbling structure and we can create something different on our own terms.

There are a lot of unmet needs and stress in a society that is crumbling—I learned that well in doing research in South Africa just as apartheid was officially ending—so, as someone looking to be of service, there are multitudes of opportunities currently.  And I think my success will lie not in clever self-marketing, but in simply speaking directly to those unmet needs and offering spaces of refuge for people to land and tools to help make the most of the opportunities at hand.

I have been giving my best energy, best ideas, best talents to a toxic and dysfunctional institution who—like all of capitalism—would’ve been very happy to consume my best until I was too wore out to continue.  So getting out is the crucial first step and I got out with my heart and soul and integrity intact which is a major victory!

Though I have dearly loved my career as a college professor, and it is hard to imagine doing something more meaningful and more in alignment with my life mission, I have a strong sense that my true greatness is only starting to emerge and, as my courage to unleash my power and boldness increases, I feel excited to see where it will take me.

I’m open to being surprised.  After my recent keynote on toxic masculinities at a domestic violence symposium, I was approached by someone in the military who was interested in hiring me to do gender trainings in the military!  Definitely not something I would have imagined for myself or sought after!  So I am approaching this transition with a beginner’s mind, excited to see what steps forward from within me as well as from the external world.

I recently attended a friend’s choir concert which was held in a new location and it reminded me that if you want to expand, sometimes you have to change your venue…

 

In the morning, in the rise up, there’s a bridge from all that’s been

In the dawning, the vines are pushing through the pavement

We were born of burning hearts, we are tearing off the reigns

From the ground up, we will build it.  From the clouds above we’ll rain it

From the crowd up we will raise it.  From the ground up…”  –Ayla Nereo

Exactly the Right Path for Me

Another song we are singing this season with Mosaic includes the line, “Life is filled with swift transitions.”  Little did I know when I started the semester in January that this would be my last at CU.  Unlike previous swift job transitions, this one was self-chosen—or at least Self chosen since it’s a soul thing.  I am simultaneously saying no to a toxic environment where it was not feeling self-honoring to stay, and being called away into collective service in response to this particular political moment.  Though I deeply love teaching and all of my students, I need to be available and can’t be when all my available time and creative energy is serving a dysfunctional institution whose values are antithetical to my own so I am taking my teaching beyond the confines of the ivory tower.

Of course, transitioning professionally in mid-life is anxiety-producing, and leaving one’s livelihood with no certain prospects of how I’ll be paying rent come May is pretty unnerving.  I’ve been listening to the Graduation Mix cd I made for my Senior Seminar students last spring and feeling great solidarity with my current students who are graduating and facing their fears about finding their place in life.  But my inner guidance has been 100% consistent about the rightness of this decision—even saying it will result in “tons of love and money” wow.  The night I came home from campus after notifying my department chair that I was leaving, I received the message “A dark and difficult period is now finally over—express your joy,” which was a powerful affirmation of my intention to leap into the unknown.

Leap

In thinking about my next steps, which will likely include writing and public speaking, doing more of the Unlearning Racism workshops I’ve been doing around the country since the election, building my shamanic counseling practice (with the addition of professional cuddling, which seems like it could be a healing and needed offering in this political climate), leading vision quests for queer youth, and perhaps even opening my own university (something my partner and I have been talking about for a long time—free of grades, tuition, gatekeeping, ego and the other obstacles to actual learning in contemporary higher education), I’ve been getting 2 strong pieces of guidance:

The first is that my art will support me, which is well outside my belief system so that’s been a great opportunity for inner work, to start expanding my sense of what’s possible.  The second is that I’m meant to have “exactly the right path for me,” which as a trans person who has spent my life fitting myself into other people’s worlds, feels equally preposterous.  My first midlife crisis was when I graduated from college and looked out on the world at all the multitude of paths and couldn’t see mine.  It is challenging for me to let myself even consider what it is that I might want in any situation because my main experience of life has been that whatever I might need in life is never even a possibility, so I’ve become very adept at accommodating the limitations of the binary world around me, which is pretty easy for me given the degree of fluidity I generally bring.

But I had a very painful experience in the fall that stemmed from my trying to fit my complex nuanced self and way of doing life into someone else’s limited framework.  It had catastrophic consequences that I am still experiencing, so that was a very powerful reminder that I can’t live that way any longer.  Even if I don’t know at this point what it might look like, I need to trust that putting together, piece by piece, “exactly the right path for me” will be the surest route not only to my own happiness, but to my highest path of service to the world.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve certainly found that the soul doesn’t usually provide a lot of details about where you are going ahead of time lol—so it’s been reassuring knowing I only really need to focus on the NEXT step.

Oracle Feb 3, 2017

“Lost and alone on some forgotten highway

Travelled by many, remembered by few

Looking for something that I can believe in

Looking for something that I’d like to do with my life.

There’s nothing behind me and nothing that ties me to something that might’ve been true yesterday.

Tomorrow is open, right now it seems to be more than enough to just be here today.

And I don’t know what the future is holding in store

I don’t know where I’m going, I’m not sure where I’ve been

There’s a spirit that guides me, a light that shines for me

My life is worth the living and I don’t need to see the end.” 

–“Sweet Surrender” by John Denver

The Gift of Donald Trump

I’m in the minority these days in that I’m not counting down the days until Trump is impeached. It’s not that his physical presence doesn’t inspire revulsion in me, and it’s certainly not that his policies don’t inspire horror.  But I feel like he is good medicine for this country right now. Every day, when I see the latest disasters in the news, I cycle through the predictable emotions—but it usually ends on an almost giddy joy.  Trump is refusing to let us rest, much less go back to sleep—and, though it’s exhausting, I find this to be a huge gift.

Although I’m extremely cognizant of the very real suffering Trump’s policies are creating, Trump’s relentless onslaught on all the issues and communities that I care about is also lifting the veil on the suffering those communities have always endured, which is actually a tremendous relief to me, as someone who has spent my adult life devoted to educating people about injustice. In a weird way, my work has actually gotten a lot easier in the current climate.

My housemate, who when Trump was elected told me that she doesn’t think that politics impact her anyhow, is now attending city council meetings and eating only at immigrant-owned restaurants. A good friend in Minneapolis is suddenly texting me wanting to know about my life as a transgender person because her heart has been awakened by the hatred and scapegoating she has seen in the media. Not only has hate been emboldened in this context; so has love.

When people ask me how I am enduring the transphobia of the Trump regime, I never know how to answer, because it assumes that Trump’s agenda is significantly different from the kind of fear and violence and hatred and scapegoating and existential erasure I have always experienced as a trans person in this country. I just experience it more honestly now, without the suffocating rhetoric of “progress” surrounding it.

Sure Trump is outrageous, sure he is provocative, sure he has upped the intensity and frequency of the onslaught against all marginalized people—but he is not doing anything particularly novel (the Obama administration actually deported more people than any other administration in history). Trump is just allowing ordinary (i.e. privileged) folks to finally see what has always been going on, because it has become blatant enough to break through the luxurious bubble of obliviousness that privilege enculturates and demands. This is tremendously hopeful to me, because it means that as a country, we are actually becoming more on the same page with one another—even though on the surface it looks like one of our most divisive moments ever.

American Values

I will be honest with you—what has inspired nearly equal ire in me has been the response of the Democrats, in particular the invocation of “American values” to undermine Trump.  I get regular emails with this sort of language:

“Trump is CORRODING our American values and DESTROYING what makes our country already great. President Trump is delegitimizing some of our most fundamental American values. Trump’s behavior flies in the face of everything we stand for as a nation.”

This is shameless self-deception. Donald Trump is not the antithesis of American values, he is the ultimate embodiment of “our American values”—that’s one of the reasons why he makes people so uncomfortable (and it helps explain his popularity). He outstandingly personifies American arrogance, exceptionalism, and isolationism; the brutal violence and entitlement that was at the heart of the founding of this country; the toxic masculinity and rape culture so prevalent in the media and on our college campuses; the greed and toxic capitalism that are at the heart of our economic and social policy.  He may not represent who we want to be, but he surely represents who we are.

The toxic whiteness that Trump skillfully deploys is not an example of “bad whiteness” as many white middle-class liberals want to argue—instead it is central to the operation of whiteness itself.  “Whiteness” as an idea originated in the colonies in order to co-opt the loyalty of poor white people, to get them to pledge their allegiance to wealthy whites rather than bond with poor people of color. They were given the comfort of white supremacy to compensate for their economic disadvantage—a dynamic that was at the heart of the November election.

The reason that Trump is our current President is exactly because we need to take an honest look in the mirror, and Trump uncomfortably reflects back to us the areas we desperately need to work on—which is why I consider his presence to be a gift. The biggest danger of this moment in history, in my opinion, is that we might delude ourselves into believing that it is Trump that is the problem—and that somehow getting rid of Trump will be the answer.

Toxic nationalism

This week my students are reading Sylvanna Falcon’s outstanding piece, “Rape as a Weapon of War: Rape at the U.S.-Mexico Border,” and one of her most powerful points (from the work of Beverly Allen) is that “rape occurs when fear and insecurity are joined with power and immunity from prosecution” in a hierarchical social system. I think this simple observation explains so much of what we are seeing currently in this country, beyond sexual violence and beyond the border. I think one of the most urgent tasks in our country right now is to heal fear—and as each of us does this and refuses fear in our own lives, we also start to shift this patterning in the collective and become less susceptible to manipulation.

As someone who has done research in South Africa since the late ‘90s, I have been struck for some time by the ways that the contemporary U.S. reminds me very much of the end days of apartheid in South Africa. Increasingly since 9/11 we have pursued the misguided and hysterical belief that more control equals more safety—often manifested as hyperfocus on regulating people’s movements through fixation on identity documents and brutal enforcement of artificial borders. Although we portray ourselves as an immigrant nation, we are actually highly suspicious of people who don’t stay in place—whether the borders people move across are physical or social, such as gender fluidity.

Dominance is always linked to fear.  It is rooted in the belief that control is the only way to get one’s needs met, that if you are not dominant you will be taken advantage of.  Dominance requires the vigilant maintenance of one’s position (including pre-emptively), so it not surprising that the U.S. has the highest levels of anxiety of anywhere in the world—even more than countries where people are living in dire poverty or under the devastation of warfare.  This is why I believe that the U.S. will never experience peace and true happiness (not just the addictive frenzy of unfettered consumption touted as “freedom” and “happiness”) as long as it insists on its current role in the global community. I think being aware of this connection between dominance and fear also offers insight into the amazing ability of the U.S., especially post 9/11, to represent itself as global victim and hero while operating as global bully.

One of the things I know about bullies, from my decades of spiritual work, is that bullies are deeply wounded people—who are often carrying so much pain internally that the only way they can survive is to project that pain outward and disperse it into the environment around them. I actually have a lot of compassion for Donald Trump. I think it takes a lot of soul strength to so publicly and strikingly embody the extremes of toxic masculinity, toxic whiteness, toxic nationalism, and toxic capitalism so that people are finally able to actually recognize what we have been participating in and have the opportunity to choose to reject it. Donald Trump is showing us what is unhealed in our nation, the work that urgently needs to be done, and he is giving us strong motivation to get over our fear and complacency and resistance and get to that work—for our own survival.

I don’t want to “annihilate” or “humiliate” Trump, as the Democrats have been boasting. I don’t want to live in a world where anyone has to be humiliated for my happiness. Instead, my vision for Donald Trump is that he will go down in history as the man who killed capitalism (and hopefully the American Empire along with it). It seems entirely possible—we’ve been in the late stages of industrial capitalism for some time now, and Trump represents so beautifully the excesses of corporate greed. I think it would be such a fitting legacy for him and a really lovely role of service to the collective.

Wake Up, Everybody

While many folks around me are finding comfort in nostalgia about the Obama years, the last 5 years were actually a time of great despair for me. We are currently in the process of transformation that I thought was coming in 2012. When 2012 came and went and nothing was different, I fell into a deep depression and resigned myself to the possibility that we were not going to evolve in my lifetime. I certainly did not expect Donald Trump to be elected President, nor expect his election to be the catalyst for the kind of transformation I was born to help facilitate! But here we are, finally, and I am filled with relief and gratitude.

Five years ago I made myself a 2012 mix CD, and the heart of its message was found in the Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes song “Wake Up Everybody,” which was a significant song of my childhood (it was featured in a commercial for the United Negro College Fund that was formative in my desire to become a teacher). In addition to directing Phoenix, the trans choir my partner and I started in 2015, I sing in Mosaic Gospel Choir on the CU campus. Incredibly, this semester we are singing “Wake Up Everybody!” And it has given me a weekly opportunity to reflect on my gratitude to Donald Trump for helping us to wake up and giving us the courage and motivation and determination to create a better world. We may never get another chance, so now is the time for us to bring our best selves forward to at least try to actualize what we’ve been dreaming of.

https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=wake+up+everybody&view=detail&mid=246B1E7D14C8263EDDA6246B1E7D14C8263EDDA6&FORM=VIRE

“Wake up everybody, no more sleepin’ in bed. No more backwards thinkin’, time for thinkin’ ahead…. Wake up, all the builders, time to build a new land.  I know we can do it if we all lend a hand…. The world won’t get no better, if we just let it be. The world won’t get no better—we gotta change it yeah, you and me.”

 

Woman Trapped in a Man’s Body

Those of you who know me know that I’m a transsexual.  I was born female, came out as transgender in 1995, and went on testosterone in 2006.  I strongly reject the popular notion of being a “man trapped in a woman’s body.”  This is an antiquated notion invented by the medical establishment that has never been the truth of most trans people’s experience.  I don’t identify as a man, first of all—my gender identity is trans.  Ever since I was a kid, there were my friends who were female and my friends who were male and I was just always something else.  Though I share pieces of the experiences of both men and women, I’ve never actually lived as either of those.

However, recently I have come to resonate with the concept of being a “woman trapped in a man’s body.”  Although I am totally open about being a transsexual,* including to the hundreds of students that pass through my classrooms at CU every year, strangers who encounter me in my everyday life universally assume, because of what I look like, that I am a man.  In fact, I regularly have people enthusiastically “compliment” me that I’m so realistic-looking as a man, they would never guess that I’m transgender.

For me, being trans was always about my relationship with my body.  I waited for 13 years to go on hormones because, though I wanted to change my body, I knew that changing my body would change my whole relationship to the human community in ways that I would have no control over and would probably find very disturbing (which totally came to pass, by the way).  Though I may have wanted—for whatever reason—a more masculine body, I largely find masculinity repellent.  The world that I want to live in is filled with kindness, tenderness, nurturing, listening, and cooperation, so I have spent my life cultivating these qualities, which are classically feminine.

There is the idea that transitioning as a transgender person helps you to finally be recognized for the person you feel yourself to be.  For me, going on hormones definitely made my bodily vehicle feel more like home in ways that have greatly increased my happiness and peace of mind.  But I am still not any more recognized as the person I experience myself to be, nor do I feel any more at home in the human community.  In fact, there are many ways that I now actually feel more invisible than at any other time in my life.  We live in a society that non-consensually categorizes people based on their bodily appearances and when it comes to gender, even with the recent explosion of trans visibility, there are still really only 2 choices.

I had 2 experiences in a row this week on campus that typified the invisibility I feel.  As I approached my office building, I saw 2 guys walking towards me holding hands.  As they saw me, they immediately dropped hands, assuming that someone who looked like me would be disapproving, since my queerness is no longer visible—even to folks I would consider to be “my people .”  Across the path there were 2 guys canvassing for Planned Parenthood all afternoon.  Despite walking back and forth several times, and despite the fact that the guys were approaching everyone else to ask them to sign petitions, make donations, etc., they never once approached me.  Despite my smiling right at them, when they saw me, their eyes dropped and they waited for me to pass before resuming their campaigning.  There are so many ways that I feel more unseen now than I did before going on hormones.

Being a transsexual is a somewhat lonely path.  I grew up without a peer group—since those are organized according to gender—and, while I feel able to connect with most anyone I encounter because of the breadth and diversity of experiences I’ve had due to my unusual life path, I have few folks who can relate to my experience.

One of the things that most surprised me about being perceived as male in society is the loneliness of that path as well.  I am a very physically affectionate person—it’s a big way that I connect with people and it helps me feel grounded.  But now I find I no longer touch women because, in my current vehicle, that feels creepy.  And I certainly don’t touch guys that much because that could result in violence.  Women don’t touch me and guys don’t touch me, so I move throughout my daily life largely without the experience of touch, which makes me feel rather disconnected.

I am here to be of service—to be a teacher and healer and path forger—so most days it doesn’t bother me.  But lately the disjuncture between how I am perceived and who I am on the inside—and the resulting feelings of misunderstanding and isolation and loneliness—has felt overwhelming and painful.

But recently I had an experience that gave me hope.  My choir (I lead a transgender choir here in Colorado) got the opportunity to sing at an elementary school.  We are an intergenerational group and one of the parents in the group wrote a story about a transgender Raven in the community of animals, and we interwove the songs throughout the story and all dressed like animals.  The message of the story was about the importance of being seen for who you are on the inside rather than what you look like on the outside.

Afterward we received a collection of thank you messages and artwork from the kids that really showed how deeply they grasped our message.  One specifically referenced me: “when Snake came out they said he was scaly and dangerous, but really he was silky and loving,” and it was so affirming that the kids really got it.  I identify with Snake quite a bit (not only as my main spirit guide animal) since trans people are also generally perceived with alarm.  Despite my continual efforts to be gentle, safe, and non-threatening, I am regularly regarded as someone to be scared of, someone whose very presence is automatically disruptive, threatening, contaminating.  A big part of my beauty, I think, is being such a yin person in such a masculine body, so I was very touched that—although most of my human community is not able to perceive that, much less appreciate it—the kids immediately saw and valued my gentle loving heart underneath the scary exterior.

 

*Many trans people may question my use of the language “transsexual,” but for me it is an important distinction, since I was out as transgender for 13 years before going on hormones.  Though that 13 year experience and my life since starting testosterone would both be considered “transgender,” they have been dramatically different life experiences, which I acknowledge by referring to my current experience as “transsexual.”

from-the-school

Don’t Despair—Every Thing is Unfolding Perfectly and Exactly on Time

I know these are troubled times and there is an air of despair all around.  Indeed I am feeling the heaviness of the immense suffering surrounding me.  But I’m feeling a spirit of rejuvenation and rejoicing as well.  People are finally waking up.  Donald Trump is one of a rare breed of people who has the power to alienate such a wide swath of people that he could bring us together like few others could. 

I am very encouraged that, in the shock and dismay of the election results, people’s first inclinations were to come together.  This is exactly what we’ve been needing, where we’ve been stuck—to come out of isolation.  Because we are beginning to recognize our true relationship to one another—and that is our interdependence.  We will find a way to rise together or we will fall together.  We have been trying to avoid surrendering to that lesson, but we have now boxed ourselves in: we have boarded the roller coaster to transformation whether we like it or not.

The great news is that we like it—and a lot!  The cracks in the foundation are purposeful because this house was not built on solid ground.  And this is our opportunity to step into something better.  You see, we have been spending all our energy trying to convince authority figures to create it for us, completely forgetting that we are meant to create it ourselves.  We don’t need to wait for permission—or convince people in power to care about the same things we do.  That’s never going to happen and, by trying to convince them, we are giving them our own power. 

What we need to do instead is turn to one another—to create horizontal communities committed to taking care of human well-being.  This is what everyone I know wants— to live in a world of kindness and balance where the well-being of all is prioritized.  And the dangers we are facing as a result of this election are allowing us to practice our commitment to the well-being of all.  And I would say we are actually doing a surprisingly good job of standing up for one another.   

I’ve been doing visioning circles with folks recently, the kind of work I’ve been doing with my students for years, and what I’ve been continually struck by—and have heard from others who have been engaged in this work for many years—is the similarities in the vision we have of the world we want to live in.  One in which we are connected to our natural environment and to one another, where intergenerational and multicultural connection is the norm.    

What has been driving my decision-making lately is asking myself is this action/attitude consistent with the world that I want to live in—because I’m going to act like that’s the world I’m living in now because by doing that, I help to create that world. 

Purple snake